BOSTON – After a memorable homecoming for Paul Pierce in Boston on Sunday afternoon, the former Celtic gets another shot at his old club Monday night in Washington, D.C., on the second leg of the home-and-home matchup.
Monday's rematch won't come with the hoopla that Sunday's game in Boston did for Pierce, but it should give Celtics fans the opportunity to take a closer look at Pierce in his new role, attempting to transition an up-and-coming Washington Wizards team into a contender.
Despite Sunday's setback against the Celtics, the early returns look pretty promising on the contender front. The Wizards are tied for second place in the Eastern Conference with a 13-6 record, building off the team's second round playoff run last season to move into the East's elite.
Pierce has replaced Trevor Ariza in the starting lineup at small forward from last year's squad, and he has proven to be a more than adequate replacement in this young group.
Wizards head coach Randy Wittman spoke about how fortunate the team has been to grab a player like Pierce for just the mid-level exception in free agency.
"I think the ability that we had [to surround] our young guys with quality veteran guys [was key]," Wittman said. "We lost a couple of those guys last year and we were lucky enough to pick up Paul, that fits right into the things that I think is important for a team. The more professional people you can have around a young guy, they learn to do things the right way. And obviously Paul does that."
The numbers that Pierce has posted in a reduced role in Washington aren't exactly exciting. He's averaging 12.7 points, 4.2 rebounds and 2.5 assists over a career-low 26 minutes per game.
It's not just his play on the floor that matters to Wittman, though. It's how well he has meshed with his teammates.
"His fit with this team has just been perfect," Wittman said. "The cohesiveness is always an important factor in my mind that you have to be a good team. It's just not based solely on talent. And those are the things that Paul has brought here right from the start. It almost seems like he's been here more than 18 games or whatever it is they've played. He's just stepped right in and been part of the group, and been an instrumental part of the group."
Pierce has also tried to bring some championship perspective into the locker room, knowing the franchise has not made any deep runs in the postseason for several years now.
"We don't overlook anybody," Pierce said after the game Sunday. "We haven't proven nothing yet. I mean, you know, we're still trying to earn some respect around the league as a team, as a franchise. We don't overlook anybody."
That kind of leadership worked in Boston, and Rajon Rondo has no doubt it will be effective with a talented group in Washington.
"He's one of my favorite guys," Rondo said of Pierce after Sunday's game. "He's one of my favorite leaders I've ever played with and he's a great role model. The older he gets, the more knowledge he has for younger guys like John Wall and Bradley Beal."
While playing in Washington may not be the ideal path Pierce had in mind to finish his career, his influence on the team's young core speaks volumes already, enhancing his legacy by the day.
Wittman put it perfectly before Sunday's contest.
"I think what Paul has shown coming in here," Wittman said, "is why he's had the career that he's had, the longevity that he's had, and the reason he's going to be a first-ball Hall of Famer."
I don't think you'll find anyone around the league that will argue with that sentiment.d
Brian Robb covers the Celtics for CBS Boston and contributes to NBA.com, among other media outlets. You can follow him on Twitter @CelticsHub.
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